Editor’s Note: Our old buddy, Harbin, shares his thoughts on the recent movie.
The other half rented the movie, having heard good things about it and knowing I like Sci-fi stories. It took me less than five minutes to figure I wasn’t going to like it, but I sat through it so I could itemize the expected issues, and on the off chance that I might be pleasantly surprised. Sadly, it met expectations, but not for all the reasons given in the other reviews (10 reasons Mortal Engines was the dumbest movie of 2018, HOW MORTAL ENGINES BECAME THE NEW JOHN CARTER OF MARS, Mortal Engines movie review: it’s got no rev ).
First, the good: As you would expect from any sort of Peter Jackson flick, it has gorgeous F/X. The visuals and modeling for the various vehicles and aircraft are marvelous. The colorizing to help set the tone, the costuming, etc., are all spot on. The acting was decent. The set design was pretty cool. The basic premise for the story was decent if absurd (mobile cities on treads?), with an interesting twist on the post-apocalypse genre. They had a fun dig at the near illiteracy of today’s people in the “screen age” (showing iPhones, etc), saying “they didn’t write much down.” The story outline has a lot of potential, I think, though I didn’t even know it was based on a book until I read the other reviews, because I’d never heard of the book. In the hands of a pro-western script-writer and director, it could have been a great movie.
Then, there were the bad: Plot holes the size of Texas, as many inversion-of-reality tropes as you can pack into 111 minutes, sketchy-as-stand-alone things becoming utterly implausible to co-exist, and all the normal failures to think logically about the consequences of a technology that S/F normally fails to consider. Plot hole examples: a huge wall stopping foreign powers… when air travel is easy. A fabulously rich and powerful people living off the scraps of… the poor and low-tech. They treat “military grade tech” as though it’s a totally separate thing from “tech.” The mobile city apparently can recycle nearly anything, and the hero is tossed out a waste-disposal chute that looks like it’s discharging ground up plastic… which is recyclable/usable even at today’s level of technology. They have fliers and apparently radios, but defenders can’t detect the City of bloody London until it’s only six miles away?! Resources are scarce, but there are many huge mobile-city carcasses littering the ground across the land in front of a defensive wall (wouldn’t they have been scrapped long ago to recover resources?) Anyone familiar with manufacturing tech, energy tech, power tech, engineering, human psychology, manufacturing, recycling, or biology will find many more plot holes if they care to look.
Next up, how many tropes? Well, pretty much all of them. Woman kicking men’s asses? Check. Apparent saviors turn out to be bad people (slavers, specifically)? Check. Smart people are evil? Check. Top engineer is women? Check. Long lost child/parent, thought to be dead? Check. Industrial culture presented as bad/evil? Check. Dumb, and I mean really dumb, thuggish security stooges (white, of course) who miss the heroine’s weapon? Check. Tough guy gets knifed deep in the guts early on and mostly shrugs it off for the rest of the movie? Check. Magic Negro who appears to be the only one who understands the problem and utters “what have we done?” Check. There are many more, but you get the picture – it is yet another installment of Politically Correct trope central. The movie could be used as a case study in derivative cliché.
On the “failure to think it through” front, there are many more face-palms to be had. A huge mobile city, with enormous tracks that sink deep into the earth because of the mass they support has an energy crisis… while they drive over vast swathes of forest. The scenario is that the Big War had “shattered the earth crust into a thousand pieces,” yet we didn’t all die in the ensuing problems that big a geological disaster would necessarily entail. They are searching for useful old tech, but they… grind up the micro cities they “ingest” after casually ripping them apart. If their fliers don’t need wings and aerodynamic lift to fly, then… why do their mobile cities need tracks, since they must have something akin to anti-grav? Once again, you get the idea. You don’t simply need suspension of disbelief, you need to be a moron to not see the problems with the storyline, even if you accept the absurd basic premise.
The Ugly: It is unrelenting in its anti-Western, anti-male, anti-white, anti-Christian, anti-science, anti-technology bias. Basically, it inverted reality in the all-too-typical Hollywood ways. Every white male was either stupid, evil, naive, bumbling, incompetent, clueless, arrogant, comic relief, or some combination of those traits. The Mayor of London was clueless about those closest to him, arrogant, unlikable, and condescending. The nominal hero of the story was smart-ish, but naïve, bumbling, inept, and alternately incompetent and marveling at something he’d done little of. The primary antagonist was a white male who killed casually, but sounded like a really great guy when the crowds were around… a real psychopath. Of course he had a great ego and gigantic ambition and recognized old tech, but his main technical support person who appeared to be doing most of the work was… an elderly white woman. The crowds of people cheering the chase and watching the fight were nearly all white, showing a totally decadent, sneering, Roman-circus –crowd level of barbarity. Slavers? Of course they were all white. Scruffy-looking slave buyers? Nearly all white, too. Scummy, back-stabbing, arrogant little slime-ball fellow crewman? White male, of course. Creators of the doomsday tech? Implicitly the white males of the USA (the Medusa ultimate weapon, MED-USA, “medusa” get it?). The evil “Terminator” clone, Shrike, looks distinctly like a European-ancestry zombie.
On the flip side, nearly all the “good” characters were non-white, non-male, or both. The ass-kicking “most-wanted” anti-government renegade was a woman… and Asian, naturally. She had some tough-looking side-kicks, nearly all male, and all races, but clearly not as effective at fighting as she was. The heroes’ nice-but-tough boss, who mutters the iconic “what have we done”? Black. The Asian ass-kicker’s main squeeze? Black-ish, supposed to be poly-ethnic. The tough-but-wise ruler of the peaceful land behind the wall (see, walls work!) was Chinese. A strangely accepting one, too. The “Traction city” of London had just killed thousands of his people and blew a huge hole in his precious wall, and he welcomes the survivors of the now defunct and no longer mobile city of London with a wave of his hand, and all his loyal troopies just relax and welcome them.
It’s distinctly anti-western, with the implicit origin of the ancient weapon being the USA. European-ethnic types are all profoundly and obviously flawed, whereas the non-whites are without major flaws, to the point of being cut-out dux ex machine, flat characters. There are no references to any of the useful things western men created, only the implied bad things.
There were no references to religious faith that I noted, beyond various blurbs on Occidental-style walls, except for one: the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral was used to hide the Medusa weapon, a not-so-subtle hat-tip to the evils of Christianity. An apocalypse that shatters the earth’s crust, and there is no religious revival? I find that more than a little hard to believe, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Science and technology are clearly used, but because the big machines are used but not apparently understood or given away by the decadent / white super-predator cities run by white guys, it’s presented as a not-so subtle hint that whites / western peoples are nearly mindless servants of their machines, and that tech is bad (unless it’s the graceful and elegant wood-and-paper flier used by the Asian female ass-kicker… well, aside from its obvious metal, but not focused on, jet frikkin’ engines).
So, overall, it’s yet another beautiful piece of anti-western propaganda that folks should take a hard pass on spending money to see.